Pieter van Slingelandt was baptized in the Hooglandse Kerk in Leiden on 4 November 1640. He was the eldest son of the mason Cornelis Pietersz van Slingelandt and Trijntje van Polanen, a cobbler’s daughter.1 The painter came from a milieu of craftsmen: one of his uncles was also a mason, and another one a cloth shearer.2 Pieter’s father was not without means.3 Pieter was the only one of his nine siblings who never married, and he probably lived at home with his parents until 1678.
Thanks to the Leiden chronicler Simon van Leeuwen we know the identity of Van Slingelandt’s teacher. Writing about “den vermaarden Gerrit Douw” (“the renowned Gerrit Dou”) in his city description of 1672, he noted that the master “does not hide [his art] from any of his pupils who have talent, as can be seen from the stellar rise and flourishing progress of Frans van Mieris and Pieter van Slingelandt, who because of their excellence are expected to equal and possibly surpass their master.”4 According to Arnold Houbraken, Van Slingelandt did eclipse his teacher, although some reservations can be detected in his final conclusion. He had seen paintings “that in terms of elaboration and refinement transcend those by his master; yet there are also some which, having received the same treatment, are somewhat stiff. Still, he was a great artistic light.”5 The painter, by whom signed portraits from 1653 and 1656 are known,6 entered the Leiden Guild of Saint Luke in 1661 and paid his annual dues with a few interludes until 1681.7 He was a prominent guild member and served as headman and dean in 1690 and in 1691.
Van Slingelandt’s portraits and genre paintings emulate Gerrit Dou’s (1613–75) style, and, like his master, his pictures commanded high prices. In 1663, when he had only just begun to work independently, the French diplomat Balthasar de Monconys complained in his travel journal that Van Slingelandt had charged him 400 guilders for a small painting.8 He was not the only one who balked at paying Van Slingelandt’s steep prices. Between 1678 and 1680 the painter waged a notorious court case against the heirs of Francois Meerman (1630–72), who was in his lifetime the secretary of Leiden. They refused to pay Van Slingelandt 1,500 guilders for a modest-sized family portrait that had been agreed upon with the secretary more than ten years earlier.9 According to Houbraken, Van Slingelandt worked on this 1668 portrait for three years, which is confirmed by the existing testimony.10 Contributing to the high price will undoubtedly have been the many changes Meerman had Van Slingelandt make to the painting. Moreover, his laborious work method will have played a role as well: Houbraken “had been told in all truth” that while working on this portrait, Van Slingelandt had spent “a month or six weeks painting a jabot with lace.”11 Incidentally, the asking price seems to have been disputed only by the patrons. Pieter’s brother-in-law, a bargeman operating regularly to and from Utrecht, testified that on a boat trip to Bodegraven several years before his death, Gerrit Dou had confided to him that Van Slingelandt “had been greatly wronged by Mr. Meerman” and “the virtuoso manner in which he had portrayed the eldest of the two children alone was worth one thousand guilders and that it was exceptionally skillfully painted.”12 The long, drawn-out conflict was finally settled in 1680, when the Court of Holland largely ruled against Meerman’s heirs, ordering them to pay the painter 1,200 guilders.
From the testimony, moreover, it emerges that Van Slingelandt’s workshop was thriving around 1670. The Mennonite cloth merchant Cornelis van Houck recalled the case of Meerman’s portrait well because it had greatly delayed the completion of his own likeness and that of his wife and his niece/cousin. The merchant also cancelled a commission on behalf of another patron who felt that the painter was too caught up in the Meerman portrait affair. Van Houck ultimately received his portraits, which were listed in his estate in 1684.13 He must have had a special bond with the painter, for he ordered other works and, moreover, Van Houck and the painter Johannes Hannot (1633–84)—the same person who in 1665 rented a room to Johan de Bye to display his Dou collection14—stood surety for Van Slingelandt during his lawsuit against Meerman’s heirs.15
Several dozen portraits by Van Slingelandt are known, only a few subjects of which can be identified. Among them are various members of the Van Musschenbroek family, including the brothers Samuel (1639–82) and Johan (1660–1707), who were successful scientific instrument makers.16 Johan Hulshout, secretary of the Rhineland Hoogheemraadschap, and his wife Anna Splinter also found their way to the artist’s workshop.17 Van Slingelandt, therefore, was not lacking in patrons. However, his extant oeuvre is relatively small. This can be explained by his slow work method, which was also detrimental to his income; according to Houbraken, “his time-consuming manner of working earned [him] more fame than money.”18 Pieter Cornelisz van Slingelandt died on 7 November 1691 and was buried in the Hooglandse Kerk between 10 and 16 November.19